I spent last Friday in a haze of sadness. I went to bed on Thursday evening praying for the girlfriend, daughter and family of Phil Castille, watching a video of Spike Lee saying the cops were hunting black people and woke up Friday morning to a CNN news anchor saying snipers were hunting white police officers with 5 dead and 7 more wounded in Dallas.
My mind and my heart were in a place that is hard to describe. When Seth would ask if I was okay, I just mumbled phrases with “can’t” “police” “hate” and “what”. My mind was racing, my blood was boiling and my heart was heavy – so heavy. All I could think about was every person who’s sat behind their computer for the last two years doing everything short of asking for someone to retaliate, while dressing it up as “justice” – every person I wanted to verbally demolish for being so naive and careless with other people’s realities. I thought deeply, for the first time in a long time, about every encounter I’ve had with racist America – the stories upon stories that I’ve filed away and refuse to share. The stories I’ve sheltered my parent’s from. Stories I’ve never even trusted my best friends with. The stories that have defined who I am and have influenced every choice I’ve made since. In the wake of all of the events, I found myself standing in the middle of my kitchen angry that I’ve pretended to be stronger than those stories for so long. Angry for the little girl who, because she was taught to respect authority and to ignore assholes, bit her tongue and stood alone in her fight for so long. As an adult, these are my stories to tell but I haven’t and I probably won’t for two basic (anger-inducing, I know) reasons:
1) It’s uncomfortable. 100% of my family is white and at least 98% of my friends are white. The people closest to me haven’t been shaped by other people’s reactions to the color of their skin like I have. They’ve probably haven’t EVER looked in the mirror and wished to be a different color. They’ve never sat in the back seat of an Impala outside their new school and asked their mother if they were a nigger because that’s how they were greeted on their first day. They’ve never worried about how light or dark their children will be. Their mothers never had to remind them to be careful because “people in those areas aren’t the most open-minded”. They’ve never had to sit in a high-school classroom while a racist teacher ripped their history book apart in front their entire class, scattered the torn pages around the room and then looked them in the eye and said, “You can pick up your mess now.” They’ve never had to choose between a degrading “pick up your mess” and detention. They’ve never carried a heavy heart because their younger brother’s classmates were always asking him who his babysitter was. They’ve never been profiled by a cop and pulled over three times as often as their friends for absolutely nothing. They didn’t have to learn that hate is taught the hard way – by sitting in a classroom and being taunted by both the teacher and his son – who was not-so-ironcally the peach who called them a nigger on that first day of school. They’ll never know what it’s like to feel so out of place that they’d pack up everything, move thousands miles and half an ocean away for the shot of experiencing life as a wallflower. They’ll never have to wonder if they were admitted into college or given the job to help fulfill a quota. They’ll always go back to their hometowns. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have a hometown.
2) I don’t want to risk the vulnerability that comes with sharing those stories – specifically, I don’t want to give someone who will never understand the opportunity to diminish my experiences by saying things like “well, you’re not even black” or worst of all “well, that was then – it isn’t like that anymore.” There is no tell-tale sign that someone will never get it that’s greater than hearing “it isn’t like that anymore”, though after last week you’d have to be living under a rock to believe that.
But let’s go back to, “You’re not even black.”
Exactly. I’m not even black and I’ve experienced and fear things my friends will never understand. Can you imagine being black? Can you??? Because I can’t. And while I’ve looked in the mirror more times than I can count and wished I looked more like my mother, I’ve also looked in the mirror so many more times than that and given thanks. The fears, concerns and emotions are complex – the rabbit hole is deep. I’ve watched Matty’s skin tone change over the course of his two-year existence, I’ve watched it closer than I’d like to admit, and every day I’m thankful his complexion doesn’t seem like it will be as dark as mine. Though, it wasn’t until Friday that I realized just how close to my chest I carry this long list of observations – they sit next to concerns like the ones generated by the outrage at Cheerios’ interracial commercial in 2013. Outwardly I brush it off and call those people ignorant idiots. Internally, I take note and remind myself to always be cognizant of my surroundings and hyperaware of my audience. Somewhere in the back of mind I keep a running list of places I probably shouldn’t recommend we take a family vacation.
And, yet, I’m not even black. And so I say very little. Unless prompted. Or triggered. I know how sensitively serious the race issue is in this country because I live with it subconsciously every day. But today, my fear is two fold.
I am a minority but the man who raised me, the man I call “dad” happens to be a white police officer. Thursday evening I was silently thankful my boys aren’t as dark complected as I am. Friday I hoped they never chose to walk in their grandfather’s footsteps to serve and protect. Suddenly everything was lose-lose. In my lifetime, this is the most broken I can ever remember this country being. It’s overwhelming and terrifying and maddening.
For the last two years I’ve had to log on to Facebook and watch so many people carelessly throw fuel onto a fire that will probably never blow back into their face. But while they’re odds of repercussions are slim, somewhere someone won’t be so lucky – and that individual’s odds were never that great to being with. But the people on social media and those journalists fueling this fire don’t care about that. They have a story. They have an opinion. They have beliefs. And they want everyone to know they matter, too. So they continue to fuel the fire. A fire that will create a fear they could never fully understand. A debilitating fear that will crawl into someone’s mind and inhibit the way they live their lives. A fear that will dictate the way they interact with the world around them. Because to them, these aren’t just news stories or carelessly strewn about opinions, they’re real life.
This is someone else’s real life.
And this life, while maybe not evident to you because you’ve never had to be aware of your skin color, is right outside your door, within your community, in your children’s classrooms and rather than doing something tangible, you sit in the comfort of your home sharing propaganda with a false sense of outrage in comparison and fuel a fire that needs no fueling. You sit comfortably instigating a fight that doesn’t need you if you’re not actually going to do something.
Being non-racist isn’t a badge you wear, it’s a way in which you live your life – your real life.
So please, get off of your computer and do something measurable, or do nothing at all. Keep your opinions and your propaganda. Read your articles and say nothing. Don’t be the constant reminder that my fears are still justified, I know that. I will always know that. There’s a bigot in the race for President, trust me most minorities in this country know their fears are justified.
The best thing we can do now is to open our hearts and our eyes. Be aware, try to be as aware as those who live with the fear and then stand up and defend their rights – not from behind your computer screen but in your communities, in your dialogue with your children. It starts in our communities and in our neighborhoods. It continues with our kids. It’s not enough anymore to teach by example, when it comes to hate we need to be proactive. We need teach our kids that it exists and that it’s wrong. We need to teach them that hate is intolerable and that saying nothing when we see it is insufferable. We have to get to them first because we can’t trust other parents’ desire to be as diligent. We need to teach our kids to stand up, to speak out and to do it without fear. We need them to know superiority does not equal success.
We’re only as strong as our weakest link. So, be smart. Be aware. Know what you’re doing and what you’re spreading. Is it love or is it hate?
What is your narrative going to be?